by Barry Levine
Robert Byrne Williams, 63, passed away at home on March 28, surrounded by friends and family, after a long battle with lung cancer. Bob was co-founder of Willoughby’s Coffee & Tea, one of the earliest specialty coffee roasters in the northeast.
Bob and I started Willoughby’s in August 1985, at that time roasting coffee in a retail environment in New Haven, Conn., across from Yale University. Bob was born in Bridgeport on November 25, 1949. He is survived by his wife, Joanna (Janny) Lehman, his son, Dylan.
After attending the University of Delaware, Bob entered the book publishing business, becoming Vice President and Publisher of Cornerstone Library in New York City. In 1980, he and I began a bakery distribution business, and in 1985 we co-founded Willoughby’s Coffee & Tea, which expanded into a multi-store regional brand. In 1996, we sold the company, continuing to source and roast coffee for the acquiring firm; but we repurchased the company in 2004, expanding their retail, wholesale and mail order markets.
In 2006, Bob and I founded Roastmasters.com, a web site for home coffee roasters, that has established itself firmly in that space. Bob companies will continue to move forward.
Bob spent his teens on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, and later became an avid sailor, cruising Connecticut’s Thimble Islands, Florida, Puerto Rico, the Caribbean and Cuba with his sailing companions. He was also an accomplished cook and loved to play the guitar. Friends and colleagues remember Bob as a good guy with a keen sense of humor and easy manner. The Williams family is grateful to the doctors, nurses, and staff at Smilow Cancer Center at Yale-New Haven Hospital, Ledgewood Rehabilitation, and to Connecticut Hospice Home Care for their consistent expertise, support, and caring.